By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It was while Gonzales worked as Bush’s legal counsel that the two meshed perfectly. Bush was a former oil-and-gas landman and executive; Gonzales, a lawyer who had done oil-and-gas acquisitions. Both men understood the nature of their relationship. Gonzales was retained to tell the boss how to do legally whatever he wanted done. It appears he never gave Bush any advice he didn’t want to hear. Gonzales is also a great American success story. One of eight children in a family of migrant farm workers, he worked his way through the Air Force, the Air Force Academy, Rice University and Harvard Law School, before landing in V&E’s Real Property Section in Houston. Bush loves American success stories. And he loved the legal advice Gonzales provided him. When Bush moved to Washington in 2001, Gonzales was the logical choice for the same job he had done for Bush before he was promoted to the Secretary of State’s Office and the Texas high court.
Conversations and background interviews with lawyers, legislators and judges in Texas all lead to the same question: "Can Al Gonzales be his own man after years of loyal service to George W. Bush?" Probably not. The public record bears this out in disturbing terms. Gonzales is George Bush’s yes man, parsing the law to justify state executions and torture as easily as a corporate lawyer would parse the law to justify the acquisition of a pipeline right of way.
As governor of Texas, Bush presided over the executions of 150 men and two women, a record unmatched by any governor in modern American history. Journalist Alan Berlow sued and forced the state to release Bush’s execution memoranda. In Atlantic Monthly and Slate, he laid out the 57 memos Gonzales prepared during the two years he served as counsel to the governor. They were the primary source of information Bush relied on to determine if someone were to live or die. "A close examination of the Gonzales memoranda," Berlow wrote in Slate, "suggests that Gov. Bush approved executions based on only the most cursory briefings on the issues in dispute. In fact, in these documents Gonzales repeatedly failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand: ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even actual evidence of innocence."
Bush scanned the memoranda on the mornings of the executions and, in all but one instance, acted without pause. But these weren’t oil-and-gas lease contracts or encumbrances on deeds. On 57 mornings in Austin, Al Gonzales sat down with his boss to blithely justify putting men and women to death. (Gonzales even had some capital-punishment experience while he was secretary of state, explaining to the Mexican government why Texas refused to honor Vienna Convention international legal guarantees when executing Mexican citizens.)
The execution memoranda Gonzales prepared for Governor Bush were a prelude to the "torture memos" he prepared for President Bush. In both cases, Bush needed the advice of his lawyer before moving ahead with life-or-death decisions. On January 25, 2002, Gonzales provided that advice in a four-pager to the president, justifying the suspension of Geneva Convention protections for suspected members of the Taliban and al Qaeda. "As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war," Gonzales wrote to his boss. "The obsolete Geneva Convention’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners renders quaint some of its provisions."
Bush used the memo to override Secretary of State Colin Powell’s request to extend Geneva Convention protections to American prisoners of war locked up in Guant√°namo. The torture techniques the Gonzales memo allowed for prisoners in Cuba ultimately found their way to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Now their author is moving over to the Department of Justice, where he will reassure the religious right that he is not "the brown Souter." The first President Bush mistook David Souter for a conservative when he appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1990. The evangelicals won’t risk another appointment like him. Gonzales will convince them that he’s the real deal, which he can do only by moving further to the right. While he’s at it, he won’t embarrass Bush by covering classical nude statues with pale-blue drapes or singing "Let the Eagle Soar." Nor will he give him any legal advice he doesn’t want to hear.